Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Woman at War – smart, funny, quirky and possibly the best action film of the year (QFT from 10 May) #bff19

Woman at War could be my action film of the year. On the surface, Halla conducts a community choir, choosing beautiful folk ballads for her friendly singers to rehearse. Her flat is decorated with portraits of heroes like Mandela and Gandhi. Underneath the model-citizen veneer lurks an eco-activist who takes direct action against the government’s plans to expand the aluminium-smelting plant to take on Chinese orders. She treks across the bleak landscape with a bow, firing a metal cable across the high-tension electrical lines to short out the power.

Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir plays the conflicted woman at the heart of the film, torn between an opportunity to adopt a Ukrainian orphan and taking her environmental campaign to the next stage. Geirharðsdóttir portrays a warm and easy-going nature that attracts people to help her character, whether in the choir or her outdoor excursions. The talented actress also plays the role of Halla’s sister Åsa.

Jóhann Sigurðarson plays the farmer Sveinbjörn, perhaps a distant cousin, upon whom she grows to rely, while Juan Camillo pops up as a hapless foreign backpacker – wrong time, wrong place – who is persecuted by the authorities, blaming him for much of Halla’s disruption.

Icelandic films often enjoy off-beat humour and a crazy sense of creativity. Benedikt Erlingsson, director of Woman at War, does not disappoint. Much of the film’s quirky score is performed live on-screen by a band (sousaphone, drums and accordion/piano) that pop up in the most remote and intimate locations while the Halla wanders past. The irony of running out of battery power under an enormous pylon is magical. The nipple badged pinned to Halla’s coat gives her the feel of an Amazonian warrior.

The scenes of Halla disguising her infra-red footprint and battling all manner of flying surveillance are worthy of a Bond film. Halla certainly tolds true to her her mother’s two pieces of advice: “Moms can do anything” and “Find solutions”.

The cataclysmic climate-conscious climax is apt. Challenging society’s environmental concern that is more tempered by profit than stewardship of the earth as well as a nod to modern surveillance culture, Woman at War asks what we can do “to save future generations”, individually or en masse.

Woman at War is smart, funny, very quirky, and was screened in Queen’s Film Theatre as part of Belfast Film Festival. While Jodie Foster has signed up to direct and star in an English-language remake, watch out for the Icelandic original when it gets a UK cinema release and returns to Queen’s Film Theatre from Friday 10–Thursday 16 May.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Stones In His Pockets – breathless production reminds us how far we’ve come (Grand Opera House until Sat 20 April)

On the twentieth anniversary of its West End Run – which I used to regularly walk past while working in London and heading back towards Leicester Square and my hotel near Trafalgar Square – Theatre Royal Bath and Rose Theatre Kingston have revived Marie Jones’ play Stones In His Pockets and have taken it on a 14-week UK tour.

Ostensibly about the experience of two local extras employed to fill out the crowd scenes of a US blockbuster being filmed in County Kerry, the play homes in on the perennial exploitation of the little people by the rich and powerful blow-ins who fill our heads with supposedly unreachable dreams.

Yet the play is running in the Grand Opera House in the week that the last season of Belfast-filmed Game of Thrones begins and opens on the very day (and I borrow phrase from one of many press releases issued on the subject) that the first of six beautifully-crafted, freestanding stained-glass windows that are being installed across Belfast, each depicting some of the most exciting and talked-about moments from the saga.

We have adapted. We have learned to collude with the magic picture-makers. We have learned to ever-so-slightly exploit the filmmaking overlords and play them at their own publicity game. While the tables haven’t completely turned, the cards are no longer stacked against us with the house being able to automatically take advantage.

So while a mention of ‘virtual reality’ indicates that Marie Jones has tweaked the script – though I’m glad ‘saving for a Commodore 64’ survives! – the words of Charlie and Jake have a certain dissonance reflecting how far we’ve come, rather than a relevance to our current situation.

The step and twirl choreographed transitions between characters – the pair of actors play a total of 15 people between them – are among the most stylish in a recent run of multi-roled productions. The Riverdance sequence deserves the laughter and applause it garners.

Kevin Trainor plays Charlie who has turned his back on a failed relationship as well as an Xtravision video rental franchise in Ballycastle to travel south-west and try something new. While the accent is more Glens than Fair Head, it’s consistent and likeable. Owen Sharpe plays the wiry Jake, a local Kerry-man who is a second cousin to nearly everyone in the town that has gone mad for Hollywood. His dalliance with the film’s lead actress Caroline Giovanni turns out to be as phony as her accent. The two actors bounce off each other like a seasoned double act, never dropping a beat. Trainor’s Jock Campbell, Scottish personal security to the film’s lead is a favourite from the minor roles, along with Sharpe’s overly eager to impress, mincing assistant director Aisling.

Peter McKintosh’s lush and verdant set epitomises rural Ireland, though the wispy clouds in the backcloth betray the normal changeable weather. Howard Harrison’s lighting design employs a huge array of different temperatured spotlights to recreate warm sunrises, the midday sun, and sunsets. With a general lack of props and moving scenery, rapid shifts in light signal scene changes.

Lindsay Posner directed last year’s production of Dear Arabella as part of Belfast International Arts Festival and is familiar with the quality and fluency of Jones’ writing. However in Stones, the rapid pace of delivery leaves very little space for the wordy script to breathe, and the emotions of the tragic moment before the interval and Charlie’s own revelation in the second half are senselessly lost.

Stones In His Pockets continues at the Grand Opera House until Saturday 20 April. While some of the script’s observations have dated, having walked past the London run all those years ago, last night was a great opportunity to be reminded how far good writing and a simple set can take a play. And while we may no longer be so vulnerable to being taken in by the charms of the Yanks, with an election or two (or more) around the corner, it’s a chance to evaluate where else in society we allow ourselves to become victims of other people’s dreams and ambitions.

Bathroom – the parable of the claustrophobic circus comedy performers #bff19

Following ‘the Situation’, two circus artists Regina and Ronald are trapped for their own protection, living in their upstairs bathroom, locked into a cycle of performing routines and recording them to satisfy the gas mask-wearing visitor Slav from the Council who also provides food to hoist up in a bucket.

As Bathroom unfolds, the audience discover that the novelty of snuggling up on a mattress perched on slats over the bath, cooking on a stove, and storing milk in the shower, is wearing thin. As the weeks turn into months and the agile couple’s first anniversary of incarceration is celebrated, the strains of tiny house living become more and more apparent.

Angelique Ross and Ken Fanning play the angsty and creative Regina and Ronald. A lot of tricks and routines, and even a spot of trapeze work, are crammed into the performance space. A lot of bodies are squeezed into the bath and shower. The physical comedy demonstrates the performers’ strength and control.

While Fanning keeps the inventive yet ultimately risk-averse Ronald following the rules, Ross plays Regina as a somewhat sex-starved self-starter who sees beyond the somewhat artificial boundaries of their confinement and longs to test just how dangerous the hunting Prototypes are.

Fanning claims that the script was devised after the couple endured a week-long residency in the very same bathroom. The single location is certainly built to generous East Belfast standards, though that still means that cinematographer Neil Hainsworth shot a lot of it standing in the bathtub with a light attached to his head. Each scene is a video diary of a day, though some end rather too abruptly.

The opening soundtrack features an unusual yet fitting clarinet and double bass duet, and woodwind instruments feature throughout the 90-minute film which includes a joyous song about overfishing.

Away from the dystopian set-up, Bathroom is a metaphor for the manner in which artists trap themselves against the increasing demands of their decreasingly generous funders, finding themselves forced into producing greater quantities of less creative and rewarding work, often selling out in order to survive. The ‘Council’ could be the Arts Council or any number of other funding bodies. The artists could be extended beyond circus to stretch across the breadth of the arts.

Bathroom is a celebration of circus and proves that the art-form can succeed as effectively under a hot tap as a under a big top. Its light-hearted, unpretentious visualisation of circus mentality is very entertaining, and its allegory overcomes any looseness in the plot.

Shown in the Movie House Dublin Road as part of the 2019 Belfast Film Festival, keep an eye on the film’s Facebook page to hear about future screenings.

Photo credit: Neil Hainsworth

Friday, April 12, 2019

Belfast Film Festival – featuring the absurd, challenging, deadpan, dystopian, surprising, local and international (11-20 April) #bff19

Belfast Film Festival offers ten days of cinematic treats in venues across the city. Tucked into the hundred-page programme are 90 features and 80 short films that cover every genre, every continent, and many, many gems that you’d normally struggle to see on a screen – large or small – in Belfast.

This years festival is host to award-winning international director Aamir Khan, with four of his films being screened in the Movie House Dublin Road at 6pm between Friday 12 and Monday 15.

Some other picks from the programme.

Friday 12

Another Day of Life is the story of an idealistic journalist, somewhat lost and alone, who went to Angola as a reporter to tell the story about the civil war and advent of independence, but came back a writer aware of how journalism limited his expression. Based on the eponymous book by Ryszard Kapuściński. Queen’s Film Theatre at 7.30pm. [reviewed]

Saturday 13

Looking through the eyes of a Barista serving coffee from a kiosk in the centre of Belfast to his customers: office workers, pensioners, people who are homeless, historians and poets. Neal Hughes uses time lapse to create a unique view of street life in The Kiosk which was shot over two summers. Movie House Dublin Road at 6pm.

Sunday 14

Ronald and Regina are the only surviving circus artists in the aftermath of ‘the Situation’. Bathroom is a feature length dystopian sci-fi, lo-fi circus comedy shot in a real bathroom in East Belfast. Movie House Dublin Road at 2pm.

I’m a sucker for Bill Nighy’s always caring, always deadpan, often aloof on-screen personas. Sometimes Always Never is being screened in the QFT at 6pm, with Nighy playing a Scrabble-obsessed Merseyside tailor searching for his son who stormed out of the house years ago after a heated round of the board game: a family with a surfeit of words yet they struggle to communicate.

Daniel Jewesbury’s new film Necropolis asks questions about the living and the cities in which they live by exploring our attitudes to death after decades of dispossession and privatisation in this film essay shot entirely in cemeteries, graveyards and burial grounds in Belfast, Berlin and London. Strand Arts Centre at 6.15pm.

Monday 15

Bed Sitting Room. Featuring Dudley Moore, Peter Cook and Spike Milligan, this 1969 film is adapted from Milligan’s eponymous play with John Antrobus set in a desolate landscape of ruin and ash in a dystopian England three years after nuclear war. Does this absurdist comedy of social collapse have more resonance with audiences in these times of Brexit than it had when it was first released? Beanbag Cinema at 7pm.

Film Devour Short Film Festival will serve up another smorgasbord of local shorts in front of fellow filmmakers and the paying public. The variety and quality is always surprising. The Black Box at 7pm.

Thunder Road, an award-winning and awkwardly-engaging character study of a police officer whose escalating struggles can be suppressed no more as he stands up to deliver the eulogy at his mother’s funeral. A dark yet authentic look at how some people process grief through by writer/director/star Jim Cummings. QFT at 9pm.

Tuesday 16

Woman at War is the follow-up to Icelandic director Benedikt Erlingsson’s hit Of Horses and Men. He combines music, comedy and social justice to tell the story of a warm-hearted choir leader living in the Icelandic highlands with a secret life as a hardcore environmental activist. QFT at 6.30pm (also showing Monday 15 at 4pm).

Wednesday 17

Don’t think heavy metal gets the attention it deserves. Heavy Trip watches what happens when an amateur metal band – Impaled Rektum – pull out all the stops for one last chance to make it into the big time at a huge festival. QFT at 6.30pm.

Eighth Grade is the suburban adolescent story of the insecurities and absurdities of being a 13-year old girl navigating the last week of middle school with a phone in hand looking for online connections to displace the empty everyday life. Movie House Dublin Road at 7pm.

Twenty years since its release, experience a 4K screening of this science fiction classic The Matrix in a venue – the QUB Sonic Arts Research Centre with its 48-speaker truly surround sound array – which can do justice with the Dolby Atmos soundtrack and the added dimension of height channels. SARC at 7.30pm. SOLD OUT

Looking at the world of corporate exploitation, worker solidarity and gender politics through the lens of a day in the life of a nurturing manager who protects the all-female staff in a US ‘sports bar with curves’. Support the Girls in QFT at 9pm.

Relaxer. Can no-hoper Abbie meet his brother’s challenge of playing the perfect game of Pac-Man and completing the fabled level 256. The year is 1999 and this absurd quest echoes the theme of survival in anticipation of Y2K. Beanbag Cinema at 9pm.

Thursday 18

Two brothers plot to murder their stepfather to thwart an unexpected change to their dying mother’s will that will block their inheritance. But can the siblings bear to spend a whole day together to execute their plan? Tragic comedy Brothers’ Nest is screened in the QFT at 9.30pm.

Saturday 20

Nine years after watching Rem Koolhaas – a Kind of Architect, I’m nearly ready for another documentary about the legendary architect and provocateur. Rem Hoolkaas in the Strand Arts Centre at 4pm.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Ghost - can the perfect couple and a phony psychic bring the familiar film to life? (Grand Opera House until 16 April)

Based on the 1990 romantic film, the musical theatre version of Ghost sees lovey-dovey Molly and Sam, a ceramics artist and a banker, in their Brooklyn loft apartment. Returning home from an exhibition launch, Sam is killed and is trapped between his old life and the afterlife. Able to move around but unable to be heard or seen, how can he protect his beloved Molly from the jeopardy she doesn’t know he is in?

Rebecca Lowings and Niall Sheehy are strong leads, establishing the affection between Molly and Sam through touch and gesture if not words. Their duets are rich and warm. Lowings’ rendition of With You is stripped back and haunting. There’s a bare male chest or two, but the pottery-wheel scene is not overegged and (strangely) isn’t allowed to become a pivotal moment in the musical.

Very controlled spotlighting neatly differentiates between the unlit ghosts and the still-alive characters. Sam’s killing and walking away from his corpse is a well-executed illusion, followed up with a couple of other nice moments (particularly the gun in the air in the second half). I’m not so convinced about Sam’s ability to be heard through an intercom!

Jacqui Dubois’ phony psychic with her sham palmistry injected energy into the atmosphere of grief and treacherous embezzlement. Lovonne Richards’ subway ghost certainly has stage presence and delivers a superb piece of performance poetry as well as beautifully-choreographed scenes of telekinesis. Much of the ensemble’s office environment dance routines oddly reminded me of the fantasy con sequences in TV series Hustle.

Mark Bailey’s set is busy, but the layers work well, it facilitates very fast scene changes, and its ability to suck the freshly dead into hell impressed and amused.

While technically well-executed, Ghost doesn’t move from screen to stage with the same sparkle as other recent touring productions like Shrek and Legally Blonde.

As a musical, Unchained Melody stands out above all the other songs – its final reprise is the most electrifying – while the remainder of the music alternates between soft ballads and big gospel sound numbers. Last night’s performance was let down by what may just be a first-show-in-a-new-venue problem with the sound balance: sitting in the stalls, at its loudest moments, the seven-piece band drowned out the cast’s vocals in the mix.

If you’ve a strong emotional connection with the Patrick Swayze/Demi Moore/Whoopi Goldberg film, then like a friend further down my row, you may blub your way through the first half, never mind the ultimate finale.

However, as someone who is often moved to tears in the cinema or theatre at the drop of a hat, Ghost’s ending is underwhelming, sapped of energy, neither squeezing out every last ounce of emotion nor swinging back with a big musical number to finish on a high note. Audience members in the rows in front of me had begun checking their mobile phones for messages before Sam had even said his farewells, though these same people then rose to their feet to applaud the cast.

Ghost continues in the Grand Opera House until Saturday 16 April.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Mid90s – ambitious, shocking yet pretty ‘sick’ coming of age movie (QFT from 12 April)

Mid90s is a character study of a young lad called Stevie (played by Sunny Suljic) who is searching for belonging and a sense of community in ninety’s Los Angeles.

The first half of the movie sets up the cast of brash, misfit characters. Stevie lives with his once wild now reformed Mum (Katherine Waterston) and sullen yet bullying older brother (Lucas Hedges) who is never far from a large carton of orange juice.

Attracted to a gang of skater boys, he spends his days hanging out in their yard out the back of a skateboard shop. There he meets sullen Ruben (Gio Galicia), until now the youngest member of the gang; Fourth Grade (Ryder McLaughlin) who films everything and occasionally stands on a board; the aptly named FuckShit (Olan Prenatt) – despite what your Mum said about swearing not being clever, in this case it’s very funny; and Ray (Na-Kel Smith), the eldest and most cool with no need for a nickname.

Mop-haired Stevie sits quietly soaking in all he is told, unable to properly filter what is true and what is teenage nonsense. He barely speaks, but when he takes a spectacular tumble – I’m ashamed to say I roared out with laughter at the seriousness of his fall – he earns the respect of the majority of his peers and they start to look after him in their own substance-abusing, law-breaking way. The gang skate well, and Suljic disguises his real-life skill.

The twist comes half way through with the film’s single most problematic scene when we’re expected to swallow his brother revealing a thoughtful side to his otherwise bruising character, speaking out about history repeating itself, with Stevie not falling far from his mother’s tree of poor behaviour and poor company before she cleaned up her act. It’s then a tussle of love between the gang who are helping Stevie grow up all too quickly, and his family who struggle to repair their broken bonds.

Mid90s is shocking and deserves its 15 rating for many reasons: language, substance abuse, self-harm and injuries, never mind Stevie’s acceleration to second or third base. The skater-vibe runs throughout the film which is shot in an old-fashioned TV 4x3 aspect ratio as if captured on a good quality DV camcorder, and sometimes edited like a YouTube video with stunt repeats.

Unlike Stevie’s skateboarding, there are no wobbles in Jonah Hill’s confident feature directorial debut, with a powerful portrayal of longing and belonging, and great performances across its cast. Smith’s paternal side is tender yet believable. Waterston’s softer concluding scene acts as a keystone to lock in the previous 80 minutes. As a coming of age movie about a gang of drifters, the clichés are limited, the soundtrack uplifting, and overall Mid90s turns out to be an ambitious, disturbing yet pretty ‘sick’ film that leaves Lady Bird far in its wake.

Mid90s is being screened in Queen’s Film Theatre between Friday 12 and Thursday 18 April.

Friday, April 05, 2019

The Young Pornographers – concert reading of an exciting new musical work by Conor Mitchell full of brio and panache (Lyric Theatre)

Watching a reading of new theatre work is often exciting. The simple read-through of David Ireland’s Summertime was electric back in 2013’s Pick’n’Mix festival. Outburst Festival showed off three works in development in Brewing last November, and the Lyric’s New Playwrights Showcase has been a highlight of the last couple of Belfast International Arts Festivals.

Last night, the Lyric Theatre hosted a concert reading of Conor Mitchell’s The Young Pornographers. Seven performers backed by a fourteen-piece band brought to life this new work in an epic performance that wowed the audience and once more demonstrated the versatility, passion and talent of Mitchell.

The impact of the fences going up in 1953 Berlin is seen through the eyes of Stanislav and Hanna, a photographer and his muse. Trapped in the east, they scrounge a living through pornography. Always under pressure from pimp Ruddy, they trick a talented actress, Margot, into posing for an American magazine photoshoot. Her manager Gerardt has his doubts, but she presses ahead, aware that it’s not legit. But her sudden enthusiasm for the work and invitation for a critic to inspect it throws everyone’s life, safety and future into doubt right at the point Stalin dies.

It’s a Soviet story told through American-styled music, a mashup of cultures and ideologies that mirrors post-war Berlin. Taking full advantage of the considerable brass section, it kicks off with a big band sound, witty lyrics, some simple props and confidently modulates key mid-phrase. It’s big, it’s brash and it’s full on from the very start.

Mezzo-soprano Ciara Mackey plays pin-up girl Hanna, using hand gestures, glances and hard stares to portray her shaky co-dependent relationship with Stanislav (Darren Franklin). Each has a difficult backstory that only emerges later in the show, with Franklin then able to demonstrate the emotional power of his voice.

Zoë Rainey gives actress Margot huge confidence and smiling energy as she first steps up to the microphone to unwittingly enter into the grubby world of Stanislav’s studio. There’s an exquisite three-handed number with Mackey and soprano Rebecca Caine, before the actress’ off-stage playwright husband throws a spanner in her career and job security.

New modern musical theatre often fails the ‘could you hum it?’ test with nothing singable as you walk back to the car after a show. Not so with Mitchell, whose The Young Pornographers throws out song after song that are playful, intelligent, quite humorous and melodic. It’s an Almost Love leads on to the glorious Chaplain’s Coming, with Mitchell dancing along on his conductor’s podium.

Full of secrets, deception, self-preservation and unexpected proposals, the gradual revelation and understanding of the plot isn’t hindered by the concert-style performance which tells its story with brio and panache.

Steven Page’s arts critic Comrade Poliakov – who is later found to be manipulating his artists – gets his own song. The baritone’s lyrics are seeded with suitably review-like words like oeuvre, caprice and transfigured! A bit of Irish history is thrown in for good measure, requiring nimble fingerwork by Keith McAlister on piano. Sean Kearns (Ruddy) and Matthew Cavan (Gerardt) complete the able cast.

For a new work, the detail and subject-matter knowledge packed into the lyrics, together with the dramatic score is impressive. The former state anthem of the USSR pops up at the end of each half of the show with an increasing complex set of harmonies beautifully woven around the familiar rousing melody.

The feelings of being trapped, segregated by physical and political barriers, and manipulated as part of wider agendas, echo strongly around 2019 Northern Ireland and the UK’s shambolic Brexit negotiations.

Mitchell curates excellence in everything he does, and the cast, musicians and creatives for this concert reading are a medley of the very best talent he knows. The Lyric Theatre deserves credit for helping develop this musical through their New Writing Department, and giving it a public airing.

What has Belfast done to deserve Conor Mitchell?! The intelligent plot, the lightness of touch, the richness of the lyrics, the blending of the powerful voices, and the oomph from the orchestra and band made this world première concert reading of The Young Pornographers a real treat for those gathered last night in the Lyric Theatre’s main stage auditorium. A great piece of musical theatre that will hopefully now grow into a full production.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Bouncers – can you get past the doormen to enter The MAC’s Luminaire Club (Big Telly until 20 April)

Four tuxedoed bouncers exchange hollow banter and barbs as they stand in the freezing cold street outside the Luminaire Club. They met some of The MAC’s punters coming in through the venue’s door. Now they’re weeding out the stag parties, dodging the boking drunks and stepping over discarded condoms while waiting for the small hand on the clock to reach two and their time to escape into a world of porn and loneliness.

The perfect integration between Ciaran Bagnall and Diana Ennis’ arched set, Garth McConaghie’s zoned soundscape, Sarah Jane Shiels’ synchronised lighting design and the glitter cannons and smoke machines is impressive. Yet despite the technical complexity, it all supports the Brechtian non-naturalistic style that Big Telly adhere to in their production of Bouncers with The MAC.
Some of them want to use you / … to get used by you / … to abuse you / … to be abused

For the second time in less than a week, Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This is aptly included in a play. McConaghie mixes together so many familiar tracks with original music, and plays with speed and ambiance to create a backing track that lasts the duration of the play and on its own nearly justifies a visit to the theatre to listen to it.

Marty Maguire, Conor Grimes, Ciaran Nolan and Chris Robinson play the four doormen, transforming themselves through stance and pitch of voice into a group of four women celebrating a birthday and four men on a night out. The play is rooted in the 1980s, with mention of LPs and a great play list of songs woven into the action.

The bouncers are lecherous, jaundiced, philosophising misogynists, quite prejudiced and at times homophobic too. They talk about violence but don’t really demonstrate much menace until some well-choreographed fight scenes towards the end of the second half.

Flicking between characters and scenes in the foggy, tunnelled set is fast and effective. The toilet humour, more properly urinal humour, is funny in its vulgarity. Women in the audience laugh a lot more than the men at the antics and the abusive situations portrayed. It’s as if an amusing curtain has been raised into the male mind and macho culture.

John Godber’s script has been gently Norn Iron-ised, with C&A replaced with Dunnes and some local locations thrown in. It’s a deliberately provocative work, which pulls no punches in terms of language, sexualised content and neanderthal attitudes.

While the blokey cast is balanced up by a mostly-female creative team, given the multi-gender, multi-role nature of Bouncers, switching two of the cast for female actors would have revitalised the play’s appeal and the comparisons with 1980s and today, and it might have freshened up the comedy, which at times is (deliberately) as stale as the wet floors in the gents.

There’s no sense that the bouncers are a tight team. They’re co-workers rather than chums, each bringing their own baggage to the night shift. John Godber’s script and Zoe Seaton’s direction paint them as individuals. The first half sets up the three sets of characters, leaving the shorter second half to watch situations of conflict erupt and find resolution.

Lucky Eric is the senior figure, looked up to as a sage head, but carries the burden of separation from his wife and some of his monologues are devoted to his distress at the exploitation and objectification of the scantily clad women who pass through his doors. Marty Maguire was born to be a bounder, and his Eric hides any vulnerability behind a cloak of confidence and bravado.

Judd treads the adult section at his local Xtra-vision and constantly spars with Eric, picking fights as if to pass the time. Ciaran Nolan brings his wiriness and pulled faces to Les. Ralph is quiet one of the bunch and the real thinker in whom Chris Robinson instils a sense of being aloof and the least clubbable of the four.

Together on stage they’re like a boyband, singing while grinding out dance routines to familiar hits. I fully expected that them to pull off their bags trousers and turn into the Chippendales.

There’s a definite them and us vibe, with those in the stalls looking down at the hundred or so people sitting around circular tables in front of the stage wondering why they wanted to be treated like VIPs with table service drinks, and the snobs down below looking up and realising that the regular theatre seats are so much more comfortable than the ill-padded chairs they’ve paid extra to sit on.

Bouncers is a quality production, with great physicality on stage matched by an all-encompassing sound, lights and set. The play was written in 1977 and revised in 1983 and 1991. Has the reality of clubland changed much since then? Last year’s rugby trial suggests that some men’s attitudes towards sex and women still fall short of respect. Watching that acted out on stage as 1980’s nostalgia and realising that it’s still true is shocking and takes a bit of the shine off the entertainment factor.

You can get your name down for the door by contacting The MAC box office and be guaranteed entry into the Luminaire Club until the run finishes on 20 April.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Happy As Lazzaro – a morality tale of slavery, exploitation and wolves (QFT from Friday 5 April)

Welcome to the mad and sometimes metaphysical world of Alice Rohrwacher’s Happy as Lazzaro. It’s a tale of servitude and poverty in two halves, seen through the eyes of a young and compliant lad called Lazzaro (played by Adriano Tardiolo).

The first hour watches as 54 farm workers live in three small homes with a couple of light bulbs between them, growing tobacco and other crops for the Marchesa Alfonsina De Luna. Since a bridge collapsed in the 1977s, the feudal commune believe that they are isolated, with just whatever machinery and vehicles they can keep running to help work the land and survive into the 1990s.

The marchioness’ business agent and a priest use a hoist to pick up crops, though somehow the farm produce never begins to pay off the supposed debt. When the sharecroppers’ boss makes her annual visit, she stays with her son in the relative comfort of house, with some of the farming teenagers waiting upon them and the goings-on providing a soap opera for the remote community.

Filmed on Super 16mm, the sepia quality of the picture helps age the first act, and eases the deliberately confusing transition at the mid-point when a bump on Lazzaro’s head somewhat magically jumps the action forward in time. We can see how the group are now faring in a more urban landscape. It’s safe to say that the exploited have become the exploiting, and where wolves once preying on the slaves, it’s now the bankers squeezing their former overlords.

The concept and conceit behind Happy As Lazzaro is novel and at times unexpected. Rohrwacher’s storytelling is gentle and some levels seemingly unconcerned with structure or significance. The audience build up a picture – in my case with a few false starts – of who the main characters will be over time.

Happy As Lazzaro is a warning that being obedience and biddable is a poor substitute to challenging your environment, and a reminder that the oppressed are only a step away from becoming the oppressors.

While one set of Walkman batteries last a lot longer than normal, what’s more realistic is the possibility that a whole group of people could become trapped in what is really an open prison is a scary reminder of how peer pressure keeps people together and silences those who seek alternatives to the accepted norm.

Happy As Lazzaro is being screened in Queen’s Film Theatre from Friday 5 April. It’s a slow but rather spellbinding experience.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

A Queer Céilí at the Marty Forsythe – electric theatre (Kabosh) #ImagineBelfast

Writer Dominic Montague and director Paula McFetridge break a lot of theatrical rules and in the process create a piece of drama which illuminates a moment of history and deftly challenges strongly held beliefs and worldviews in A Queer Céilí at the Marty Forsythe.

The background to the story is that National Union of Students Lesbian and Gay Conference pledged to hold their annual meetup in Belfast if and when homosexuality was decriminalised. Fifteen years after the English legislation was passed, the NUS kept the word of their promise, if not the spirit of it, and those delegates who could afford the vastly inflated registration fee on top of the travel costs came over to spend an October weekend in 1983 Belfast.
“You can just about smell the limited freedom in the air”

Pints at the bar cost just 60p. Save Ulster From Sodomy banners are waving in front of QUB Students Union in a cross-community protest led by the DUP and some in the Catholic Church. The play picks up with local students Brendi (Simon Sweeney), Michael (Christopher Grant) and Margo (Paula Carson), meeting Mancunian George (Brendan Quinn).

For the first half hour, scenes are frequently interrupted by one of the cast members turning towards the audience, causing the rest of the action to freeze, and delivering a monologue to brief us about some aspect of social or political attitude of that time. There are nods to Inez McCormack and Jeff Dudgeon.

Quinn does well to hold his Manchester accent throughout, allowing George to provide the outsider’s eye into our parochial situation, comparing the situation in England with Northern Ireland. The gay community’s fit with other outsiders – punks, rockers and anarchists – is explored. The way that politics fragments every community is highlighted, even gays and lesbians.

Carson gives Margo a sharp edge that cuts through some of the other characters’ flimsy arguments attitudes. Sweeney and Grant bounce well off each other as Brendi and Michael tease out what it means to be gay in a 1983 Belfast where homosexuality is decriminalised but it’s still not safe to be out or visible.

Kabosh specialise in site-specific drama, in this case using the Marty Forsythe club (now called Trinity Lodge) as the venue for the play. We sit around tables in the room once visited by the students. (They’d organised another céilí to follow the final performance of this four-night run!) The bulky loudspeakers in the ceiling belt out 1980s dance tunes before the show: Fleetwood Mac, Cutting Crew, Foreigner, Culture Club, Spandau Ballet. Eurythmics’s Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This has toes tapping during the performance.

On the Saturday evening, the students are invited to attend a céilí in the Marty Forsythe social club in Turf Lodge. Not very punk! The trip up into West Belfast takes the student activists away from political and religious protests, and brings them face to face with people their own age, and families who offer them a bed and hospitality for the night.

It’s here that the acting and Montague’s script rise to another level and sing out with a warm and engaging passion. Multi-roling introduces a lot of humour – mostly through misunderstandings that compete with the best of the first series of Derry Girls – and the combination of pathos and laughter creates moments of remarkably raw and electric theatre.

The cast of four do well to fill the expansive dance floor, standing level with the audience, sometimes moving the action up to a raised area to one side of the stage. Sight lines are far from perfect, but the voices carry across the still hall. Despite the lack of bodies to give everyone a dance partner – I feared the audience would have to be asked to join in! – McFetridge primes the céilí scene with energy and a clear choreography.

The backdrop is simply projections of newspaper clippings and signage, reminding us that this is a fictionalised version of actual events. A final extended montage of images brings the struggle up-to-date in a non-dramatic yet highly emotional manner.

Montague neatly laces his script with parallels, including security cordons and barricade keeping the security forces out of republican areas. While republicans are celebrated for their Turf Lodge welcome, the question of whether any republicans would arch in a gay (pride) parade is not dodged. There is a real sense that sympathy with the LGB struggle was laced with a certain amount of discomfort, and prioritised well under the matter of the border.

We’re reminded (a few too many times) that the pesky NUS executive banned political discussions at the conference, much to the chagrin of local students who didn’t view the NI Gay Rights Association organisation as representative of the totality of their views, and saw linkages between different type of liberation in the overall hierarchy of struggle, including national liberation (the border issue) and the way that state forces target gays.

The argument that the different types of oppression on the island of Ireland cannot be separated is well-observed and quite persuasively made. On top of the historical re-enactment, it’s a useful reminder – and one that eventually embarrassed Sinn Féin into making a U-turn on abortion policy ahead of the Irish referendum – that there picking and choosing our freedoms and oppressors to campaign for and against is a perilous business.

If When A Queer Céilí at the Marty Forsythe returns, it’ll be well worth the trip to Turf Lodge or beyond. Building on his 2017 audio tour Quartered, Montague and Kabosh once again demonstrate their ability to turn heads to gaze in different direction and help audiences hear lesser-told stories that continue to shape the city of Belfast.

The Keeper – complex, well-constructed, and doesn’t rely on a cheap love of football for its appeal (Movie House from 5 April)

Injured at the Western Front, near the end Second World War, Bernhard Trautmann is taken hostage and transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp in Lancashire. While the vindictive commander assigns the no nonsense lad to latrine duty, his goalkeeping skills impress everyone around him. When the local football team face relegation, he’s spirited out of the camp to secure their net. It’s the first of a number of introductions to new teams and less-than-appreciative fans. (It’s not a spoiler for football fans to mention that Trautmann ends up spending 15 years playing for Manchester City until his retirement, including a rather heroic FA Cup Final performance in 1956.)

While 2019 cinema screens have been littered with biopics, The Keeper is one of the best. And I say that as someone who has no love of sport and no prior knowledge of the story of Trautmann.

It’s a film that explores how those who feel they are the victors of a conflict relate to those they believe they have defeated. The theme of living with the conquered was at the heart of The Aftermath, but The Keeper is a much richer and multi-layered affair that gets a much better grasp of the issue. The film also gently asks to what extent foot-soldiers – often conscripted or forced into action – can be held accountable for individual acts of war.

John Henshaw dominates the first half of the film, playing local grocer and local football club manager Jack Friar. He’s shrewd, irascible and great fun to watch. Gary Lewis then takes over the manager of Man City (Jock Thompson) who spies a rare talent and hires him despite post-war feelings of animosity and the large Jewish community in Manchester who support his club.

David Kross plays Bernhard ‘Bert’ Trautmann, bringing to life a talented sportsman who relentlessly trains to develop at his talent, who stubbornly refuses to play by the rules of those around him, all the while bearing the trauma of battle and one haunting wartime act of omission. It’s a gripping performance combining strength with vulnerability.

At first, Friar’s daughter Margaret (Freya Mavor) can separate her admiration for the football from her dislike of the player. But we watch her mood mellow and her tolerance temper as she gets to know the hard-working German in the shop. Mavor is sparky and spirited, taking her character on a jagged yet believable journey from distrust to defence, and throwing in anger and indignation in moments of professional and personal turmoil. She’s also credited with the haunting version of Abide With Me that plays near the end.

As principals Mavor and Kross never let a scene down. But the joy of The Keeper is that you could take any five-minute sequence from it and have a beautifully shot short film with interesting characters, well-judged action, and thoughtful reflection on post-war Britain.

With a two hour run time, The Keeper packs a lot in, and director Marcus H. Rosenmüller’s exhibits tremendous skill in keeping the on-pitch scenes short and snappy, while juggling a raft of nuanced characters – among them the farting grandmother, the bullying boyfriend, the frisky friend, the playful younger daughter and an upset Rabbi – and a multi-threaded storyline. Even a later scene in a cemetery that at first seems clichéd and a little forced quickly becomes an acceptable part of the narrative.

Partly shot in Northern Ireland, The Keeper is complex, well-constructed, and doesn’t rely on a cheap love of football for its appeal. Released on Friday 5 April, you can catch it in Movie House cinemas.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

DUPed – defining the problem is only the first step (Accidental Theatre until Saturday 30 March) #ImagineBelfast

DUPed is a former insider’s outside frustrated view of unionism, specifically Democratic Unionism, in Northern Ireland. A playwright from Portadown, but now living in Dundee, John McCann wonders why the people around him aren’t aware of the “shitberg” of nonsense spoken by politicians in Northern Ireland, rhetoric that “in any normal functioning democracy would have cost someone their job”.

A loudhailer and a Bible sit on the stage as the audience take their seats around it in the Shaftesbury Square venue. We listen to clips of Jim Wells criticising an event he hasn’t attended: “Stormont’s not Las Vegas, it’s not Soho, it’s the seat of government”.

We listen to McCann recreate a lengthy section of Pastor James McConnell’s controversial sermon (mispronunciations and all) and remind us of Peter Robinson’s televised reaction. Other than using props like the loudhailer to define his characters, there’s no mimicry of accents or speech patterns. DUPed is not unnecessarily cheap. In fact, for a show that played in the Edinburgh Fringe last summer, it’s no bundle of laughs.

McCann travels across to the Irish Sea North Channel to interview people who have local perspectives on a political worldview which seems to devalue communities that are ‘other’, whether measured by religion or sexuality or social attitudes. He recalls conversations with Mal, Chris, Mark, Peter and Lyra, sometimes hearing their voices recorded in busy coffeeshops.

The playwright and performer is annoyed by the hurtful words spoken by politicians. He is annoyed by the increasing sense of distance between Scotland and Northern Ireland. Why don’t the people he meets back home in Scotland know about the “influence of an evangelical rump”? (There’s a strange sense of overlap with Dark of the Moon, a show I enjoyed and reviewed 24 hours earlier at the Lyric Theatre.)

I find it unsettling to sit through the performance, knowing so many of the people quoted in the performance, both those interviewed and those being critiqued. There’s no sense of distance. It’s also depressing, listening back to the abnormality that counts for normality in these parts. (That’s also part of the success of the mock campaign material – described by the alliterative Irish News as ‘phony pollster posters prompt palaver’ – an example of which is tied to a lamppost outside the theatre door.) And embarrassing to think that such dirty laundry might have been shared with audiences in Edinburgh last summer.

Speaking to those sitting around me after the show, a number feel fired up, wanting to do something with the clarity of thought they now felt they had. I wonder to myself whether a ‘Sean Mac Cana’ needs to unpick some of the absurd and negative rhetoric of republicans to fully pull the wool from over their eyes?

After a litany of all-male conversations, as the hundred-minute monologue drew to a close, it is left to author and freelance journalist Lyra McKee to reset McCann’s compass for the next step of his journey of resistance.

“We need to continue to have conversations with people we don’t like” she tells him. Don’t respond in kind to hurtful words. You entice bees with honey not vinegar. He realises that resistance can itself be as self-righteous and sectarian as the behaviour and rhetoric he loathes.

For some it is a revelation. For others, it’s anticlimactic. As someone who attends and reports from party conferences across the political spectrum, I already believe in the value of keeping good relations with everyone and seeing politicians and party apparatchik as whole people rather than just partisan mouthpieces.

McCann is going to have to keep catching the ferry from Cairnryan. Having listened to the critics, it’s now time to listen to the criticised. Given the lack of cheap shots in DUPed, the nuanced analysis of what he picks up from his next set of conversations will be fascinating to hear.

DUPed continues at Accidental Theatre until Saturday 30 March as part of Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics.

Dark of the Moon – exploring otherness and religious oppression with a talented young cast and superb set and soundscape (Lyric Theatre until Saturday 30 March)

Howard Richardson and William Berney adapted the folk song The Ballad of Barbara Allen to create a play set in the Appalachian Mountains. Dark of the Moon is a story about witch boy John who does a deal with the Conjur Woman to become human in order to pursue his love for lusty wild child Barbara Allen, a human girl living in a town steeped in religious fear and fervour.

Nineteen performers from the Lyric Drama Studio (18-25 year olds) take on this two-hour performance which is delivered in the Appalachian dialect and involves singing, dancing, live music and wood chopping.

Callum Payne plays witch boy John, cutting a tall figure on stage with lots of presence and a formidable angle to his jawline. There’s a mix of emotion as the tragic tale unfolds: confident and strong, yet at points also longing and quite crushed.

Opposite him in the other principal role is the talented Ellie McKay. She steps into the boots of Barbara Allen, eyeing her unsuitable admirer up and down. Her character bravely – and somewhat brazenly – stands up to the traditions and preferences of her family and fellow townsfolk. Their chemistry is believable, and McKay physically demonstrates her character’s isolation throughout. While the final scene lacks some of the depth of emotion that I expected to see, perhaps John’s flippancy can be explained away as a sign of his cultural regression.

Colm McCready takes on the pragmatic yet ultimately abusive Preacher Haggler, owning the crucial revival meeting in act two that whips the townsfolk into a charismatic frenzy with confessional scenes that underscore the town’s duplicitous attitudes. One fornicating couple are forgiven while Barbara Allen is zealously pursued for marrying an outsider; her repentance is horrifyingly sealed with a church-approved act of rape.

It’s a gorgeous production to watch and listen to, and Philip Crawford’s direction adds a lot of small details to each character that keeps the large cast from becoming a mere ensemble.

Lyric Drama Studio productions benefit from large casts and the full weight of the Lyric’s technical might. Stuart Marshall’s heavy wooden stockade set – constructed by HMP Maghaberry – grounds the story in the mountains and is complemented by Chris Warner’s thunderous sound effects which beam down on the audience seated around the thrust stage. The controlled echo during the witch scenes is very atmospheric, and the cast commit to the singing accompanied by some great blue grass fiddle playing.

In a world in which religion seems to be used to oppress rather than free, Dark of the Moon’s foray into north American folklore with its somewhat dated sensibilities is an unexpected reminder about the destructive forces that can still be unleashed today when worldviews clash in a fog of intolerance.

Dark of the Moon continues at the Lyric Theatre until Saturday 30 March. At the time of writing, many of the performances have sold out, with tickets only available for Friday evening and Saturday matinee.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Out of Blue – a dark and quirky cosmic mystery (QFT from 29 March)

A homicide under the dome of an inner-city New Orleans observatory sparks an investigation that examines cosmic mystery through the lens of police procedure as the victim’s close friends and family come under Detective Mike Hoolihan spotlight.

In Out of Blue, Patricia Clarkson plays the recovering alcoholic whose own grip on her late 1990’s reality is a little shaky. As she begins to investigate the death of Jennifer Rockwell (Mamie Gummer) she confronts the black holes in her own past.

Director and screenwriter Carol Morley stirs up a feeling of interconnectedness – without the zaniness of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently – and lets it linger right until the closing moments of this surprisingly dark movie.

Half way through the film the cause of death is resolved. But while that case is closed, Hoolihan aligns with Rockwell’s boyfriend Duncan (Jonathan Majors) and can’t rest until she finds out why, rather than how, the young scientist died.

Toby Jones appears as the observatory’s English manager, with hair as wild and dodgy as his alibi. But it’s the female characters who are the richest and most rewarding. Jacki Weaver (playing Rockwell’s mother) is marvellous as she escapes the gravitational pull of her husband. Yolonda Ross’s young reporter holds up a mirror to Hoolihan’s character flaws. (Later on, some holds up an actual mirror to her.)

Despite being adapted from Martin Amis’ novel Night Train, the dialogue isn’t heavy. The audience are trusted to hold the unexplained flickering lights and disappearing objects and figure out whether they are significant. Clint Mansell’s soundtrack is gentle and matches the vintage clothes and props that litter the film’s locations.

For a long time it’s hard to pin down exactly what genre Out of Blue should fit into. That’s a strength of the storytelling, and a hazard of modern cinema which can usually be so easily (and unnecessarily) pigeonholed.

A quirky film that mixes starry awe and wonder with police procedure and spaced-out confusion, Out of Blue asks how trauma affects what we perceive as our reality? What is at the dark heart of this black hole of a mystery? It’s science rather than philosophy that states:
“The death of a star brings new life to the universe. We are all stardust.”

Out of Blue is being screened in Queen’s Film Theatre between Friday 29 March and Thursday 4 April.

Girl in the Machine – are we seduced by technology? (Chaos Theory Theatre at Accidental Theatre until 26 March) #ImagineBelfast

Chaos Theory Theatre have bravely picked up Stef Smith’s 2017 play Girl in the Machine with its dystopian vision of a world with state-fitted biometrics, anonymous corporate entities wielding huge power, widespread addiction to small screens, the dopamine hit from notifications, and – crucial to the plot – a naivety about the immersive qualities of virtual reality.
“No one’s ever died with an overdose of email”

When hospital orderly husband Owen brings home a new ‘Black Box’ gadget that was delivered to a dying 140 year old, solicitor Polly quickly dons the VR goggles and becomes immersed in the distracting mix of relaxation and self-actualisation, allowing it to replace her anxiety medication and throwing everything she once valued off-balance.

Amanda Doherty plays Polly who is rapidly ascending the corporate law ladder. Her job has perks, yet she can’t afford the time to avail of them. Amanda creates an at first anxious and tetchy, then manic and unstable character whose mental health collapses leading to desperate actions and consequences.

Meanwhile Owen (James MacKenzie) is at the other end of his career path, glibly describing himself as a “shit-wiper”, but coming across as a humane, hand-holding soul, providing comfort to patients approaching the end of their lives. At times MacKenzie looks like a young and bohemian Jimmy Nesbitt, sitting strumming a guitar, talking about beauty and dragging Polly outdoors. Yet, Owen was the one to feed her gadget addiction by bringing home the new toy.

I found it hard to imagine that Owen and Polly were ever attracted to each other and got married. There’s barely a flicker of affection or warmth, perhaps something that could have been addressed in the early scenes as she reacts to his amorous gesture of preparing her toothbrush!

All the while Callum Janes provides the soothing and trustworthy voice of the Black Box, like a silky soothsayer seducing his victim to the point of total submission.

The black and white costumes stand out against the warmth of the furnishings and the dusty old books filling the wooden bookcase with the colour schemes emphasising the clash between analogue and digital, good and evil.

Other than text messages from an irritated next-door neighbour, we don’t see the couple interact with any other people. We watch as the plot unfolds inside the bubble of their living room, as if peering into this one aspect of their lives through a static webcam.

Director Rachel Coffey confidently works with Stef Smith’s incredibly short scenes, keeping most of the transitions brief, and not letting the 55-minute play’s pace drop.

Accidental Theatre continues to evolve its facilities in the heart of Shaftesbury Square, with good use made of the new lighting bar to create simple scenes. (A lift to provide accessible access to the ‘book bar’ and rehearsal spaces is currently being installed too.)
“I’m not a machine / We’re all contradictory, complex, carbon-based machines”

Staged as part of Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics, Girl in the Machine mashes together concerns about big data, privacy, power and mental health and leaves the audience asking who is in control: us or our technology? Do we really know the power of the devices we bring into our homes?

The final performance of Girl in the Machine is at 7.30pm on Tuesday 26 March at Accidental Theatre.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Rocky Horror Show – much-anticipated science-fiction sensation (Grand Opera House until 23 March)

Brad and Janet are on their way back from a wedding. His car suffers a puncture and they walk a couple of miles to a nearby castle to use a phone, not expecting that the owner is a “sweet” Transylvanian transvestite scientist from outer space who has created a tanned and muscular man to be his plaything up in his lab. From there the plot goes full on B-movie science fiction … quite mad, but tuneful enough to have you on your feet dancing swaying along with the Time Warp by the end.

The show’s first chord hits you between the ribs and grabs your attention for a frantic 45-minute first half of The Rocky Horror Show. The music is infectious, played live by a five-piece band perched high above Hugh Durrant’s film roll-shaped set.

As the narrator steps on to the stage to bring some context to Richard O’Brien’s somewhat random plot, a couple of stalwarts in the audience start to join in with the traditional heckles (‘callbacks’) and some Belfast improvisations. Philip Franks copes well with all that is thrown at him – most of it expected – and his retorts include a great line about Brexit and backstops. But based on last night’s experience, there should be a rule that only women are allowed to heckle, since the men who tried last night just guldered stuff that wasn’t funny.

Ben Adams and Joanne Clifton make a good Brad and Janet, with Clifton’s voice soaring in some of the later numbers. Stephen Webb’s vamping Frank N Furter certainly has stage presence, an air of self-importance (pretty vital when you’re standing in front of a thousand people wearing leather pants, holey stockings and suspenders and a corset) and a fabulous voice for Don’t’ Dream It, Be It in the second half.

Callum Evans’ gymnastic background is obvious as the freakishly acrobatic Rocky bounces around the stage. (His understudies must pray each morning that Evans is fit and well to perform!) Ross Chisari’s big song as Eddie was quite indistinct, but his Dr Scott was stronger in the second half. While at times there’s a lot of vocal screeching, I'm Going Home ends with very strong vocal harmonies from across the cast, a lovely moment of calm before the hype builds up for the finale.

Nick Riching’s lighting design is very distinct, albeit overused in the second act, taking full advantage of the fog in the auditorium to splay narrow beams across the audience as well as the stage.

It’s incredible to realise that The Rocky Horror Show was conceived and performed in the 1970s. The original stage version of The Rocky Horror Show premiered in London a few days after I was born. Within two years it had been made into a film – The Rocky Horror Picture Show – and the cult following began.

Is it just me or do 1973 sensibilities jar a little in 2019? As a safe space for dressing up, gender ambiguity and letting your hair down, no one seems to notice that alien Frank N Furter is a sexual predator and quite possibly a double rapist. And the affectionate shouting of ‘slut’ at virginal Janet sounds pretty off in a show whose very narrator acknowledges #MeToo. Shades of “don't you panic / by the light of the night, it'll all seem alright”. On stage, Columbia (Miracle Chance) seems to be the only one to eventually see through Frank N Furter’s abusive smog.

Overall it’s quite an experience. While Belfast is a relatively conservative place and the level of fancy dress among the audience is quite muted, a lot of older men attend wearing their ‘Dammit Janet’ t-shirts from previous tours! The audience was less raucous that I was expecting – maybe that’ll peak on Friday and Saturday’s shows – but obviously enjoyed the in-your-faceness of the provocative performance.

As a cult classic, it’s a well-executed and technically impressive piece of glam rock musical theatre. Whether the original message still has powerful currency in 2019 is less clear.

The Rocky Horror Show continues in the Grand Opera House until Saturday 23 March.